Here to return to
AFTER nearly two months in the extreme south of Florida I have turned my face northward, and here I am at Ormond, fair Ormond-on-the-Halifax. No more bewildering jungles of nameless West Indian trees and climbers, no more cocoanut palms, no more acres of wild morning-glory vines. It gave me a start of pleasurable surprise when, somewhere on this side of Palm Beach, I do not remember where, I saw from the car window a stately sweet-gum tree all freshly green. It had not occurred to me till then that I had found nothing at Miami of this handsome and characteristic Southerner, always one of my favorites.
Indeed, I have come to a different world. I am no longer in a foreign country. Here are lordly magnolias, not yet in blossom, to be sure, but proudly beautiful in the leaf. Here, too, are Cherokee roses, loveliest of all flowers, just coming into their kingdom. At sight of the first glossy-leaved bush, which happened to stand near a house, I made up to the door, not stopping twice to consider, and asked the privilege of picking a flower and a bud. The householder was generous, and the bush even more so. “Take another, and another,” it seemed to say, catching me again and again by the sleeve; “I have enough and to spare.” It was hard work for me to get away. Here, also, is the yellow jessamine, only less beautiful than the rose, hanging the tall forest trees full of golden, fragrant bells. And here, sprinkled along the wayside, are stores of blue violets. None of these things are to be seen on the shores of Biscayne Bay. Yes, I am glad to be here.
And the phlox, likewise, the pretty Drummond’s phlox of our Northern gardens, dear to me of old, let me not forget that. It is not indigenous to the country, I suppose, but, like the garden verbena, being here it makes itself most comfortably at home, delighting to overrun forsaken orange groves and similar unoccupied waste places. How sweetly it looks up at us with its innocent child’s face! Just now one of the guests of the hotel came in with a broad market-basket loaded with it, a good half-bushel, at the very least. “I have counted twenty-six varieties,” he said (he was thinking of diversities of color), and there must be somewhere near that number in the crowded vase that he has sent down to brighten my writing-table.
Here, too, is the Atlantic beach. In ten minutes I cross the peninsula and am on the sands; or, if I stroll up or down the river shore, — on the western side of the peninsula, — I can hear all the while the pounding of the surf.
I have been in Ormond two days, — two perfect days of temperate summer weather, — and have walked hither and thither, up the river, down the river, across the river, and on the beach, seeing comparatively little of the country as yet, but enough to be able to say that I have never found any place in Florida where a walking man should be better contented. There are paths and roads everywhere, — a convenience not to be taken for granted in this Southern country, — and be his states of mind never so variable, he may here suit the jaunt to the mood.
A visit to Ormond was not in my plans for the winter, and I left Miami with regret. Migratory birds were arriving, and I seemed to be running away just when there was most to detain me; those tropical plants, too, were certain to become more and more interesting as the season grew older; but, like the verbena and the phlox, being here I am thankful. If I have taken leave of some splendid birds (those painted buntings are in my eye as I write), I have found some old friends in their place. It is good to see brown thrashers again, with song sparrows, white-throats, and chickadees. One of a bird-loving man’s strangest sensations at Miami is the absence of chickadees and tufted titmice. I had never been in such a place before. (For eight weeks, let me say in passing, I have seen no English sparrows. Unfortunately I have not yet forgotten how they look.)
In my two days here I have counted but fifty kinds of birds. A goodly number that I know to be present, and even common, I have so far happened to miss. But in the middle of March even fifty birds make something like a festival. Mockers, cardinals, and Carolina wrens — the great Southern trio — are tuneful, of course. Even as I write, a wren is whistling an accompaniment to my pencil. If I could only put the music on the paper! If it would only “modulate my periods!” as Charles Lamb said. When I sit in the shade of a moss-hung live-oak, letting the sea breeze fan me, and listen to an assembly of red-winged blackbirds rehearsing their breezy conkaree among the reeds along the Halifax (though it is not a simple conkaree, either, but conkaree-dah, the old tune with a new coda), I think of swamps in far Massachusetts where on this very 12th of March other redwings are opening the musical season in a very different atmosphere.
Chewinks of both kinds (red-eyes and white-eyes, Northerners and Southerners) are calling and singing. Blue yellow-backed warblers are musical after their manner (they hardly need to be singers, being so exquisite in color, form, and motion), and white-eyed vireos are numerous enough, though nothing like so plentiful as at Miami. Here, as there, they have no thought of hiding their light under a bushel.
It is like old times to see Florida jays sitting on the chimney-tops of the summer cottages along the dunes behind the beach. Thus it was that I saw them first, at Daytona, nine years ago. As a friend and I stopped this morning to rest in the shade of a piazza, one came and stood upon the railing and eyed us long and curiously. “Have you nothing edible about you?” he seemed to say. If we had had anything to offer the beggar, I am confident he would have hopped upon our knees.1 As it was, he approached within five or six feet while we chirped and talked to him. Florida jays are strange creatures for tameness, and if it were thought worth while could readily be domesticated.
It seemed natural, also, to see pelicans flying in small flocks up the beach, just over the breakers, so that half the time they were invisible, lost in the trough of the sea; moving always in Indian file, flapping their wings and scaling by turns. And still another remembrancer of my previous visit to this part of Florida was the sight of a bald eagle robbing a fishhawk. The hawk made a stubborn defense, dodging this way and that, rising and falling, but in the end the eagle, an old white-headed fellow, was more than a match for his victim; for though they were far away, the motions of the contestants showed plainly enough how the struggle terminated.
On the beach, halfway to his knees in water, stood a great blue heron, leaning seaward, waiting for a fish. He might have been standing there for nine years. At all events I left him in the same position that length of time ago. “Ay, and you,” he might rejoin, “you haven’t changed, either. You have still nothing better to do than to go wandering up and down the earth, shooting birds with an opera-glass?” True enough. Heron and man, after nine years each is the same old sixpence. “The thing that hath been it is that which shall be, and there is nothing new under the sun.” Well, so be it. Only let me find new pleasure in the old places and the old pursuits.________________
1 We often fed the birds afterward, and one or two, at least, were never shy about coming into our laps.